Saturday, April 10, 2010

Week in Review

Short reads on a Saturday morning:

• In case you missed it, there was no Week in Review last week as the iPad launch and thousands of folk, including myself, were waiting for UPS to deliver out iPads.
The TNM iPad Page
4-1: First reviews
4-1: First Look: NYT app
4-1: BBC app?
4-2: GQ, Popular Science
4-2: Le Monde
4-3: Unboxing photos
4-3: Review: NYT app
4-5: Epicurious
4-5: Zinio/VIVmag
4-6: ACU app
4-7: TSA
4-7: Sales
4-8: iAd
4-8: Developer Agreement

While the week started out with the excitement of the iPad launch, it ended with a bit of controversy. On Thursday, Steve Jobs took to the stage once again, this time to preview Apple's new iPhone OS 4, set to be ready for users by the summer. Jobs mentioned that there were hundreds of changes and enhancements to be found in the new operating system including multitasking and the introduction of iAd, Apple's new mobile advertising platform. But once developers started to download the SDK it was clear that Apple is serious about locking Adobe Flash out of the its iPhone OS based products. Developers were not happy with the way Apple is forcing them to toe-the-line.

Adobe, however, has more to lose than just hours of coding. In an SEC filing, Adobe admits that Apple's refusal to play ball could hurt business. “To the extent new releases of operating systems or other third-party products, platforms or devices, such as the Apple iPhone or iPad, make it more difficult for our products to perform, and our customers are persuaded to use alternative technologies, our business could be harmed,” Adobe wrote in its filing.

Lee Brimelow, writing on his Flash Blog, responded with a post titled Apple Slaps Developer in the Face. But his most interesting line might have been the one that has now reads: [Sentence regarding Apple's intentions redacted at request from Adobe]. He does manage to get the last word in, though: "Go screw yourself Apple." Well, I think we'll move on.

• More iPad developments:
a) The iPad has several ways users can read books, either through iBooks or through separate apps. Apple's tablets uses the ePub format, a format that the ePub Working Group already sees needs revision to take into account the iPad's ability to display video and other multimedia.

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b) A team from Abilene Christian University became the first school to launch an iPad app for its student newspaper, The Optimist. "Every hour or 30 minutes we could find between classes and other obligations were spent in front of a Mac. For me, personally, in that last week before the app submission deadline, I put in over 60 hours finishing the app," said Rich Tanner, who along with Richard Beaird were the programmers on the project. The app was completed in six weeks, but there are already plans to update it.

• Magazine ad pages continue to decline, falling a further 9.4 percent in the first quarter, according to the Magazine Publishers of America. While declines moderated somewhat, a majority of magazines recorded declines, nonetheless.

Some categories recorded healthy increases, though. Toiletries & Cosmetics grew 7.6 percent, and the Financial, Insurance & Real Estate category grew 11.3 percent.

• In-stat, the market intelligence company, has been bought from Reed Business Information by its former publisher. Mark Kirstein led the team that is backed by NPD Group. "As a nimble, independent and reputable market research firm, we see this change as a tremendous opportunity to better serve our customers with industry leading research focused on the Digital Entertainment and Mobile Internet ecosystems," said Kirstein.

• In case you missed it, Advanstar Communications announced last week that it had signed a deal with HCL Technology, an India-based outsourcing company to take over production duties. The offshoring of production will result in the loss of 100 positions at the B2B media firm.

"In this highly competitive media marketplace, we need to focus on the things that we do well, creating a valuable platform for our clients, while handling other functions through partnerships or outsourcing agreements that will provide the economies of scale we need to operate more efficiently," said Chief Executive Officer Joe Loggia.

In an industry reeling from divestitures and closings, the news landed fairly quietly.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Photoblogging Friday - 14

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It's another Photoblogging Friday, and with our contributor Dean Brierly recently back from a trip to Japan, he has brought back a few photos to share.

Dean shot these early morning scenes of an empty Tokyo street (with his Canon EOS 50D with a 17-85mm zoom, for those who like knowing the camera specs). He was in Japan for only a few days and was not able to do much shooting, but we appreciate him bringing back some work for TNM. You can find his own web site at Photographers Speak where he has many interviews with important photographers.

There is another of Dean's photographs after the jump.

A few housekeeping items:

Week in Review will return tomorrow morning for those who missed it last week as we engaged in iPad mania.

Also: you can sign up for the free TNM morning e-newsletter by simply adding your e-mail address to the form found on the upper left corner of each page. E-mail addresses are not used for marketing or sold, etc.

Dish Network begins shipping Slingbox enabled DVR

Last year I made the leap: after being a DirecTV customer for years, the first one in my area, I switched to Comcast. The reason was simple: I was tired of DirecTV taking away channels without warning. One day I wake up and find out that I have to upgrade my already expensive TV bill just to get what I had received the day before. Worse, the customer service people seem more than happy to end my service rather than take my complaint. So I switched.

But if I had to do it all over again I'd go with Dish Network simply because of this:

We are excited to announce that the ViP922 SlingLoaded DVR receiver (the model ViP922), is planned to be available April 7, 2010! The ViP922 receiver will allow for a high-definition ("HD"), DVR solution for a single TV. With the model ViP922 receivers, customers can enjoy simultaneous, uninterrupted and independent TV viewing between the primary TV in the house and remote viewing on a mobile device or laptop.
Oh my, the ultimate tech toy. If you aren't familiar with the Slingbox, this is what it does: you connect a Slingbox to your cable or satellite box, and after set-up can then stream television content to your computer. Plus, if download an app, you can stream TV to your smart phone (and probably to your iPad soon).
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Imagine sitting in an airport waiting for your delayed flight. You take out your iPhone and begin watching your favorite program or content from your DVR.

Now, Dish is offering a DVR with the Slingbox built in. It's not cheap, though: $649 for existing customers, $200-$400 for existing customers. Oh yeah, and there are added fees for an additional receiver, fees for the DVR . . . you know, maybe I've just changed my mind.

Apple's new iPhone OS agreement has developers howling; publishers moving to mobile should take note

Warning, some of what follows may seem like something only of interest to programmers and developers, but it may (and I emphasis may) lead to issues for those publishers moving into mobile media.
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Apple yesterday previewed its new iPhone OS 4 to a small group of developers and press, as well as a large group of Internet viewers like myself. You can see the story about the event here. In addition to revealing that Apple will bring multitasking to their iPhone and iPad, they also unveiled their new iAd platform which will bring Apple into the ad sales marketplace, as well as provide developers new tools for creating advertising for Apple's mobile media products.

Later, after the event in Cupertino, developers were able to download the iPhone OS 4 SDK. It's the changes to the developer agreement that has created a controversy and much discussion within the developer community. As John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote, the agreement seems to prohibit the use of cross-compilers -- those bits of code that allow a program to work on a platform other than the one it was originally written for. An example: a programmer creates a Flash ad but inserts code that allows the ad to be seen and interacted with in an environment where Flash does not work. (If someone has a better way to explain this, please let me know.)

The real world consequences of this, especially for publishers, is that Adobe's Flash-to-iPhone compiler would be prohibited. In addition to Adobe, this might also effect companies like Appcelerator who have introduced its Titanium software as a way of developing native apps.

The reaction from the developer community has been negative, to say the least. There have been rumblings in the developer community in the past to what they have seen as Apple's arbitrary way of approving apps. But mostly these voices have sounded like sour grapes as Apple's iTunes store continued to grow -- now containing over 180,000 apps, and over 1 billion downloads recorded.

So why is Apple doing this? How will this effect the publishing industry?

Some rather hysterical voices have immediately claimed that Apple is an evil company trying to force its platform onto poor developers who will now have to choose between writing apps for Apple products and writing for the larger market as a whole (Apple's iPhone marketshare has grown tremendously, but the iPhone still only has a sliver of the total market).

There is no doubt that Apple is obsessed with the user experience. The last thing the company wants are apps written for one platform and ported over to the iPhone, giving iPhone users a less than perfect product -- one where iPhone users complain that their apps do not run as well as on an Android phone, for instance.

The problem with taking this positions is two-fold: one, it is alienating the developers; and two, it does not guarantee quality -- just look at all the garbage apps available on iTunes now.

"It's so hard to reconcile my love for these beautiful devices on my desk with my hatred for the ugly words in that legal agreement," developer Joe Hewitt tweeted last night. Later he added "Should I just shut up and be happy there won't be any weird looking Adobe Air apps in the store?" (Hewitt was already upset with Apple having quit his Facebook iPhone app efforts late last year.)

That sums up the dilemma: in order to create a wonderful user experience, Apple wants all the apps to function well; but that may only make it harder to get developers to create for their platforms because they must do things a certain way.

Most Mac users who care about this sort of thing, understand Apple's anti-Flash actions. Flash is just not a very good experience on a Mac, and a replacement (or improvement) is desperately needed. But can Apple really get away with trying to kill Flash, even Flash compilers, on its new products? Maybe. But Apple will take a hit at the same time as their image as an innovator competes with cries of "Apple is the new Microsoft" grow.

For publishers this could have consequences. For Wired magazine, it might have real world consequences, right now. Wired did not launch an app on April 3rd, to my surprise. The magazine has been working with Adobe to create a more interesting, interactive magazine. Until now, I've thought they may have delayed launching an app to coincide with a new issue, or to perfect their product. Now, it appears they may be stymied by Apple. As yet no word from Wired, though they are covering the controversy on their web site. (See the Wired demo and Adobe Air videos here.)

For most publishers the question they've asked third party vendors has been "will my app work well on the iPhone?" Developers have sold their services to publishers by bragging that they can provide mobile apps that will work on many platforms -- that is, buy from us and we'll have your magazine on the iPhone, Android and Blackberry immediately.

Now, a publisher needs to go one step further by asking more questions about development practices. Maybe this may not appear necessary, after all, if a vendor no longer can get their apps approved they would certainly have to change the way they compile their apps. But publishers shouldn't be in the dark, either. Many publishers can talk for hours about paper stock, and recyclable ink. But ask them about programming for mobile media . . . well, call my vendor.

There are at least two lessons here. 1) for publishers, don't take short cuts. Care about the user experience of your products, and make sure you won't have your legs cut out for under you when a company like Apple changes the rules. 2) for Apple, the lesson will either be this is how monopolies work, or this is how companies go bad.

Apple's timing in rolling out its new iPhone OS 4 is kind of interesting. They called the event in a hurry, and rather unexpectedly. The OS won't be available to iPhone users until this Summer, and the iPad version until this Fall. Well, one reason may be that Adobe has scheduled an event for Monday of next week where they will roll out its CS5 suite of products. Those attending the event now have plenty of questions to ask Adobe.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Apple unveils its mobile advertising platform, iAd during iPhone OS event; Apple will sell and host the advertising

Most developer events go under the radar screen. But today's Apple preview of its iPhone OS 4 may be more important than many publishers can imagine.
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Today Steve Jobs unveiled seven major changes to Apple's operating system that is used on the iPhone and iPad. The seventh, iAd, introduces Apple into the competitive world of ad sales. Like Google's AdSense (and to a certain degree, AdWords), Apple entre into advertising will be a boon for developers and media companies with mobile applications, as well as the entry of a powerful competitor.

For developers of iPhone and iPad apps, iAd will bring a new, highly interactive mobile advertising platform to their apps. Jobs demonstrated ads for Disney's Toy Story, Nike and Target during today's presentation. Unlike standard ads, these ads do not take you outside the app when you click on them, but launch an app-within-an-app -- basically a pop-up window -- that keeps mobile users within the original app, but introduces a more interactive ad.

The first thought that hit me, however, was will ad agencies develop these ads? Media companies have been slow to get into developing, now will interactive ad agencies embrace this HTLM5 based platform (still no Flash) and develop complex ads for their clients?

More importantly, Apple will now enter the media sale market, representing the iPhone and iPad platform to clients and their agencies. Apple said, during the Q&A, that they do not want to become a worldwide ad agency, but they apparently want to become a worldwide media sales giant.

"The average user spends over 30 minutes every day using apps on their phone. If we said we wanted to put an ad up every 3 minutes, that's 10 ads per device per day. That would be 1b ad opportunities per day," Engadget quoted Jobs as stating. "This is a pretty serious opportunity, and it's an incredible demographic. But we want to do more than that. We want to change the quality of the ads, too."
iPhone OS 4.0 changes:
1. Multitasking
2. Folders
3. Enhanced E-Mail
4. iBooks for iPhone
5. Enterprise Changes
6. Game Center
7. iAd

But Apple will get quite a chunk of this new revenue stream, splitting the ad revenue 60/40 with developers. And who is a developer? For many media companies this would be the third party vendor that created their app. Conceivably, a media company would split the 60 percent with them, as well. But for developers who now have to depend on either AdSense and AdMob ads, or no ads at all, this would be a new way to monetize their free apps.

Last year Apple was in negotiations to buy AdMob. Eventually Google picked up the leading mobile advertising company -- snatched it away, according to Apple -- and Apple eventually acquired Quattro Wireless. Now, the FTC may decide to block Google's acquisition on competitive grounds. This move by Apple may make it easier for the Federal agency to approve Google's acquisition.

The most widely anticipated change to the iPhone OS was the first introduced by Steve Jobs today: multitasking. Apple has apparently found an elegant way to achieve mulitasking, though the feature will only be able to used on the latest editions of the iPhone and iPod touch -- owners of older models are out-of-luck.

Other upgrades to the OS include the introduction of folders, allowing iPhone users to have up to 2,000 apps on their phone), enhanced e-mail (universal in-box, and the ability to have more than one Exchange account), iBooks for iPhone, enterprise upgrades and Game Center, a social gaming network much like XBox offers.

The new iPhone OS will be available to iPhone owners this summer, while the iPad version will be available for download in the Fall. The OS is free for all iPhone and iPad users, while the iPod touch users are required to pay $10 for the upgrade.

Jetcast announces its new media player will have built-in applications store, ability to monetize content

Jetcast today launched a new media player for Internet broadcasters that incorporates an applications store.

The company's new UniversaPlayer is designed to be used as an Internet broadcaster’s primary or secondary media player, and can stream content such as Shoutcast, Icecast, MP3, WMA and other formats.
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Jetcast's UniversalPlayer.

“With Jetcast’s new UniversalPlayer, Internet radio broadcasters now have a turn-key solution for monetizing their online content,” says Jeff Pescatello, Co-Founder of Jetcast. “The only thing Internet broadcasters need to do is promote their stations, the monetization occurs automatically.”

Jetcast, which introduced its own ad network, ReplaceAds, now brings an integrated app store to broadcasters. "It allows us to create more revenue opportunities for our broadcasters. Our broadcasters can now earn from virtual currency, subscription services, premium local advertising, search and more. The potential for new revenue is limitless,” CEO John Williams said.

Update: I asked the company about their apps. "Our Apps are designed to run inside the UniversalPlayer platform. The Apps are designed to make the UniversalPlayer platform more usable for the listener and to provide functionality for the App derived from the platform itself. There will be widgets dressed up as Apps (i.e. weather, job boards, etc.), and Apps (i.e. games, rock trivia, etc.) that may or may not interact with the stream. We are not exactly sure what developers will build, but we are excited to find out," Williams said.

The 'politics' of the iPad: Daniel Sinker takes some of the critics in Huffington Post column

I try to avoid reacting to posts that appear on other sites, but occasionally someone produces a column just too good to not reference.

This post by Daniel Sinker, Assistant Professor of Journalism at Columbia College in Chicago, appeared on Huffington Post and is the perfect answer to some of the early posts written about Apple's iPad.

First, go and read the whole post.

Done? Good. Now these were of the things I liked in Sinker's HP column:

All three critiques center around one central premise: that the device is only for consuming content. That it's not possible to create on an iPad. It's an odd critique, one that is so easily countered that it seems to say more about the people making it than the device itself. It's a critique that speaks volumes about the types of creation that people hold dear, and the types that they discount . . . I should point out at the onset that I'm writing this on an iPad right now . . .
The TNM iPad Page
4-1: First reviews
4-1: First Look: NYT app
4-1: BBC app?
4-2: GQ, Popular Science
4-2: Le Monde
4-3: Unboxing photos
4-3: Review: NYT app
4-5: Epicurious
4-5: Zinio/VIVmag
4-6: ACU app
4-7: TSA
4-7: Sales

There seem to be those that criticize the iPad because it is not a super computer capable of doing the things we expect from Apple's Mac Pro. They criticize the specs, totally ignoring the fact that all Apple did with the iPad was expand the line of products started with the iPhone.

Then, of course, there are those that say the iPad is just a giant iPod touch. They are right, but only if you buy into the idea that reading magazines on a three inch screen is exactly the same experience as reading magazines on a ten inch screen. Yes, size matters.

But Sinker's comment here really is in reference to those who see the iPad as some sort of philosophic statement about the future of media. To them, the iPad says that the future of media is a one-way street where media companies produce and readers read, the two never interacting. My reaction to that is far less sophisticated or well-reasoned than Sinkers: guys, chill out.

Sinker goes on to say that the iPad does facilitate creation by pointing to the hundreds of apps that have been released that do indeed involve content creation -- from Korg's iElectibe beat sequencer to Twitter apps. (Apple also released iPad versions of its productivity apps Pages, Numbers and Keynote.)

"Creation is, of course, in the eye of the beholder, and perhaps none of these measure up. But to say that it's simply not possible ignores the already-countless creative applications in the app store, from Wordpress to photo editors to musical instruments," Sinker writes.

Another point:
These devices are appliances now, they're utilitarian. Creating a device that's difficult to use (see: the entire history of Microsoft operating systems) is a death sentence for a tech manufacturer today. Complexity is no longer rewarded, it is mocked (witness Apple's successful "I'm a PC" ad campaign).
Yes! Just like print, Apple's tablet takes the iPhone ease of use and brings it to a larger, more powerful device -- and isn't that precisely what media has been waiting for? Publishers love print because they completely control the product, lock it down (to use the critics term) so that only editors and advertisers can contribute, and then present it in an easily consumed format. Print products make it hard to interact and contribute, but not impossible: readers can write to their editors, suggest stories, call in leads. The iPad may seem locked down to some, but it is far more open to users than print is (and why does everyone forget the browser?).

But its ease of use is exactly what consumers love about the iPad. When HP introduces its Slate tablet it will no doubt brag that any software application that runs on Windows can be used on the Slate. Wonderful, and how many media companies are today creating software programs to run on personal computers? The media world did not embrace the PC as a media device until the browser made it easy to disseminate content. HP's Slate, if it is only a netbook without a screen, will not move things forward without also providing a way for users to access new content.

As I've said elsewhere, the fight over the iPad is becoming politicized as people take up positions.  Others have taken positions but are already realizing their mistake.

Yes, I'm very excited by the prospects for tablets, because I believe the media world needs a device that gives us the experience of print, and the features and benefits only electronic media can provide. Right now Apple owns the field to themselves, but when someone enters the field TNM will be here to talk about it.

Golfweek launches mobile apps in time for the Masters; Handmark app for iPhone, Blackberry, Windows Mobile

Golfers are teeing off at the first major of the season this morning in Augusta, Georgia, and golf lovers will be able to read about the tournament and other developments in the world of golf on their Golfweek mobile app.
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The free mobile app (iTunes link) features real-time information that is automatically undated, a photo gallery, and the ability to save, bookmark and e-mail stories.  The app was developed by Handmark and available for download for iPhone, Blackberry and Windows Mobile devices.

Interest in the Masters will be heightened this year as Tiger Woods will be returning to golf after a rather highly publicized absence. If, after watching a round or two, you feel the need to hit the links yourself, you can always download the GOLF by Zagat app (also from Handmark), which will give you information and pictures of the best public golf courses. The app lists 1200 courses, and users can access the information directly from the app without the need for WiFi or 3G access.

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Chitika Labs reports that Apple has sold 528,170 iPads; no, make that 528,183; no, make that . . . oh, forget it

One inventive way to determine sales of the Apple iPad is to keep track of how many are "seen in the wild" by tracking the number of users that come through ad networks. Chitika Labs is doing just that and has come up with a fun iPad tracking page.
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Analysts have been giving guesses estimates as to the number of iPad sales, but Apple's secrecy pretty much makes such a task impossible. Well, unless you are doing what Chitika is doing. (Thanks to MacRumors for the heads-up.)

Meanwhile, HP looks like they will be the first PC maker to launch their own tablet. Although it looks like HP wants to go after Apple's iPad, the two products look like they are very different animals. The Slate has a slightly smaller display (8.9" versus the iPad's 9.7" display), significantly less battery life (only 5 hours versus the iPads seemingly endless battery life). But the Slate has more RAM, has a conventional SIM-card tray, has a USB port and HDMI-out, and two built-in cameras. More importantly, the HP Slate will be running Windows 7 versus the iPad's iPhone OS.

In short, the Slate, which starts at $550, is more like a netbook without the keyboard. Charlie Sorrell of Wired wisely points out that HP seems to be missing the point here -- emphasizing hardware when the iPad is all about software -- the app store, Apple's multitouch, etc.

But no matter, competition is good. And if HP can figure out a way to get people to read books, newspapers and magazines on the device, this might encourage more publishers to move forward with their mobile plans. Without an app store, of course, this will be difficult, but we'll see what HP has in mind when they roll out their device, possibly in June.

TSA: keep your iPad in its bag going through security

Well, finally a little bit of good news when it comes to traveling.

The AP is reporting that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said Tuesday that travelers need not take their iPads out of briefcases or bags when going through security -- yet one more reason to leave that laptop at home.

ePub Working Group points to platform limitations in wake of iPad launch; recognizes need for rich media options

The impact of Apple's iPad on the book publishing industry is already becoming apparent.  The International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), the trade and standards organization that is dedicated to the development and promotion of electronic publishing, issued a statement that identifies 13 areas where the ePub format is deficient.

The IDPF  has completed a minor revision of its ePub 2.0 standard. In the meantime, the ePub 2.1 Working Group has identified 13 problem areas that the electronic publishing format needs to address. These include support for rich media and interactivity, global language support, enhanced article and navigation support, a means to render page-level layouts and multiple display sizes, as well as the lack of annotation support. In short, it recognizes the severe limitations of the platform in an environment where publishers are looking to bring more multimedia elements to their text-only products.
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The Apple iBooks app uses the ePub format, though this limits rich media and interactivity options.

In early March, Penguin Group CEO John Makinson revealed that his company was looking at creating individual apps for the iPad because the ePub format was insufficient.

"We will be embedding and streaming audio, video and gaming in to everything we do. This will present us, and the platform owners with technology challenges," Makinson said in a speech in London.

"The ePub format, which is the standard for ebooks at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text, but not this cool stuff that we’re now talking about. So for the time being, at least, we’ll be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than as ebooks."

I have speculated in the past that publishers may decide to use both approaches -- ePub and apps. A book publisher could decide to offer a book in a text-only version perfect for selling through the iBooks iTunes store, selling it a standard price; then offer an enhanced version as a separate app, with a premium price tag applied.

The IDPF may be trying to head this off by making sure the ePub standard accommodates the kinds of interactivity people like Makinson envision.

If paywalls are such a good idea then why are its advocates pushing so hard to get others onboard?

Just a quick question: if you had a great trade secret -- for instance, the answer to the question "how do I save my newspapers?" --  would you go around telling your competitor's the secret?

Rupert Murdoch finds himself in a quandry: he wants desperately to construct paywalls, to start charging readers for content, but he knows that if his properties are the only ones to construct these obstacles to content then readers will simply migrate to his competitors. So while his papers begin raising the cost of entry, Mr. Murdoch is out there lobbying the newspaper industry hard, attempting to convince other publishers that the solution to the ills of the industgry is tightly controlling access to content, stopping the aggregators, and ending the era of free news.
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I am someone who believes there is an exception to every rule, so I do not doubt that a paywall, in the right circumstance, can succeed. But I think publishers place a much higher value on their own products than the public does. The best example of this is Murdoch's Wall Street Journal. The WSJ introduced its iPad as a free app, but users must pay $3.99 a week to access the full content. If I were a broker I'd buy-in simply because I can expense it -- it remains essentially free.

But what does everyone else think about pricing the iPad content higher than both print and online? As I write this 1,625 iPad users have rated the WSJ app: seventy-five percent of those have given the app the lowest rating possible; five percent gave it a five star rating.

To me, it looks like a trap, but many newspaper publishers are desperate enough to grasp at what they perceive to be an opportunity. Newspaper readers, though, are smarter than many publishers give them credit for. They have not been impressed with the web efforts of most newspapers, and are even less impressed with the mobile efforts they have seen to date. Newspaper publishers and the vendors that serve the industry continue to release cookie-cutter RSS readers that deliver the same old content, the same old way. They download these apps, and visit these sites because they are free. Put up a paywall and let's see how many will chose the local daily's bland offerings versus those from New Media companies.

I know what advice I would give a newspaper publisher considering constructing a paywall, but like Rupert Murdoch, I only give out free advice when the advice itself benefits me.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Team from Abilene Christian University launch iPad app for The Optimist; version 1.1 already in the works

While many commercial newspapers wait and decide whether they will create their own iPad apps or contract with an outside firm to develop one, universities and journalism programs are moving forward, using the development process as a learning tool.
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Abilene Christian University is the first institution to have their iPad app approved and uploaded to the iTunes app store. Developed by a team made up of students across department lines, the app for the school newspaper, The Optimist, appeared on iTunes today. A hardy congratulations to the team from Texas, especially the two programmers who will now graduate as one of a very small group of people with actual iPad app development experience.

Dr. Brian Burton, asst. Professor of Information Technology, put me in touch with the programmers behind ACU's iPad app.

Rich Tanner, a senior, and information technology and computing major, said that the work was intense. "Every hour or 30 minutes we could find between classes and other obligations were spent in front of a Mac. For me, personally, in that last week before the app submission deadline, I put in over 60 hours finishing the app."

"It's a real exciting time that our app finally got launched on the iTunes store," Randy Beaird said. "We felt really accomplished when we had a finished app produced by students. Rich and I had many late coding nights finishing up the app for iPad launch."

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The project was completed over six weeks. The result is an app that displays the school's WordPress based web site, adding navigation tools. "(A)s soon as we submitted our final code to Apple, we started work on version 1.1. The new version will include fixes to some of the existing code and add in features that we intended to have in there all along," Tanner told me.

Features like landscape mode and bookmarking may have to wait until version 1.1, but many developers are finding this to be the norm. Many iPhone developers essentially beta tested their apps through their initial users, releasing updates whenever they discovered bugs, or adding features based on customer input.

This way of developing apps may not work well for commercial media companies because user expectations have grown over time. But for ACU, attempting to produce a finished app was itself a learning experience as the team worked to develop the app against the deadline of the April 3rd launch date.

While the programmers did the coding, the whole team included students across departments. "The editors and staff of The Optimist were almost 'clients' in that regard," Tanner said. "They had the initial vision and they worked very hard to adapt their existing models and web-content to work with the app. The Art and Design department provided us with amazing graphics and concept pieces that went right into the app."

Colter Hettich, a senior and journalism major, and a member of the team, said "the faculty have said we don't want to do this because the students are the ones that are going the ones out there 20-30 years doing this." Hettich, who is also editor-in-chief of The Optimist, wrote a story for the paper concerning students who crowded the Campus Store on Saturday to look at Apple's new tablet.

The university obviously sees the value in being associated with cutting edge media development because they created the video below which I'm sure will be shared with prospective students.

Dr. Susan Lewis, asst. Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications, said in the video that "every student that we approached about joining our team dropped what they were doing and came with us. They were excited because they knew that this was the future of media."

"They had not worked on a project this large, involving this many people, from so many different angles and perspectives," said Dr. Burton.

The experience and enthusiasm shown is proof enough that while media pundits continue to debate whether tablets and mobile devices are the future of media content delivery, young people and institutions of learning are moving ahead already convinced.

First wave of newspaper and magazine apps leave much to be desired; but apps from programmers shine

Preaching patience is hard when all around you critics proclaim, with scant evidence to support their position, that the iPad has proven to be a failure  -- or a wildly successful revolution in media. Folks, it is neither. It is a work-in-progress.

It is true that the first round of apps from the media are poor. Many are redesigned RSS readers, some are minor attempts to create new publications that fit the form. But only the Times and WSJ to my knowledge were given iPads to work with, to test their creations. And even when the programmers and editors involved with the creation of new iPad apps had a unit to work with, they still faced the politics of internal interests.

The AP News iPad app.

The best new iPad apps will appear from two different sources: those media firms that are prepared to stake their future in New Media; and those that are not in anyway involved in print today.

The first group should include some familiar names like Wired. The tech books can not get away with appearing old school. This creates high expectations, to say the least.  I thought the most intelligent decision  I've seen so far from a media company was from those that chose not to launch iPad apps by April 3. These companies probably realized the trap: launch a buggy app that doesn't feature the kinds of content and programming many iPad users will expect and you are setting yourself up for failure.

In June of 2008 when Apple introduced its iPhone OS 2.0, the one that launched the app store, almost any app that delivered content to a smart phone was revolutionary. A number of third party vendors appeared that helped media companies bring their content to the iPhone, and later Android and Blackberry platforms.  These rather simple RSS readers are still the norm -- simple solutions to the complex question of "what do mobile media readers want?"

Wired is one of a group of magazines that I'm convinced wants to explore the new medium of tablet publishing. What this means is interactivity -- not just embedded multimedia, though that, too -- but Flash-like programming that tests the medium's capabilities. Which, of course, is one of the reasons that Apple's decision not to include Flash support has been widely criticized. Many programmers are familiar with Flash, and creating interactive Flash content is a natural. (Look this interactive feature today in the NYT. This is an example of the kind of content that would be perfect for the tablet.)
“Sometimes you really have to wonder whether the magazine world deserves the fate that
is being dealt to them. ”
-- Glynnis MacNicol, Mediaite

The second group of tablet publishing products have not appeared either -- those from new publishers who will produce publications specifically for the iPad and other tablets, without ever producing a print or web version.  My hopes for tablet publishing has always rested with this group. They are the equivalent of the web-only properties that have led New Media so far.

Those who are drawing conclusions from the first day's release of media apps need to get a life. How many stand alone apps were released: a dozen? a few more? Right Zinio is giving away a half-dozen magazines within its free app. Pixel Mags has 36 magazines including MacUser and Trailer Life Magazine. These are iPad versions of their web flip books -- attempts to create a digital magazine newsstand for the iPad, a newsstand that delivers the exact same product as can be seen in print, online and on smart phones. There is nothing wrong with this, and I'm sure some publishers are proudly proclaiming today that "we're on the iPad". They are, and good for them.

But this isn't what those iPad concept videos were about. That kind of content will come later.

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Pixel Mags has 36 magazines available for the iPad today including Dwell.

So is there no interesting content available for the iPad? Hardly. iPad buyers were excited that Netflix launched their app so quickly. Additionally, ABC has suddenly jumped out in front of the other networks by launching an app that plays episodes of their primetime shows, complete with advertising I might add. On Sunday my iPad went missing as my youngest daughter discovered Ugly Betty.

A look at the Paid App chart shows that Real Racing HD and SCRABBLE for iPad are winners. Many have misinterpreted this to mean that the iPad isn't going to be a serious reading device. That's like saying that the television is not a serious news broadcast player because viewers seem to prefer American Idol. The ABC Player is listed as the second most popular free app right now, with USA Today at number four. In fact, media apps make up 60% of the top ten. If anything, this shows the hunger for good content. Add in the apps from Zinio, Pixel Mags, AP News and the BBC and suddenly it looks like the media is dominating content on Apple's tablet.

Programmers, however, are the ones demonstrating the device's capabilities. Now that the games and utilities can be seen and learned from, media companies can start to get a feel for what works on a tablet. By the end of the year the iPad will an established product with between 3 and 10 million units sold (estimates are all over the place). Additional tablets will have hit the street, as well. Only then will we know whether the tablet is going to be a simply an extension of print, or like the web, a place where those that enthusiastically embrace the medium thrive.

McClatchy partners with WebVisible to roll out online marketing services nationally to its 30 newspapers

McClatchy announced today that it would be rolling out online marketing services throughout its chain to assist local merchants with online advertising. The services will be offered through WebVisible, a company that McClatchy has worked with in Kansas City, Mo., Tacoma, Wash., and Fresno, Calif.
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A press release claims that the newspaper company has been able to grow online advertising significantly in the test markets and now plan to add a market a month, with Anchorage, Alaksa and Charlotte, N.C. markets recently added, with Boise, Idaho, Miami, Fla., and Sacramento, Calif. to follow.

"Online marketing is more than just showing up in search engine results, and McClatchy understands that its advertisers want a full solution that gives them visibility across the board," said Kirsten Mangers, CEO of WebVisible. "McClatchy has always been a forward-thinking partner for local advertisers, helping them grow their businesses by making sure they can be found where customers are looking. Expanding our relationship with McClatchy is tremendously exciting to us, as we trust that it will be for their local merchants."

Here is a video which explains WebVisible's services:

I remember the amount of spec ads and other services we used to offer our customers in order to secure business back at the first paper I worked for, Hearst's daily in L.A. At a meeting I had a couple of years ago I suggested that our company needed to embrace this rather old school approach to securing advertising -- creating spec ads for web and e-mail advertising. This was in recognition of the fact that most of our customers were not advertising online, but had a desire to start. They no longer were resisting online advertising out of ignorance, but out of a fear that it would simply cost more and that their lack of experience in this area would show up in their efforts.

What they didn't want to do was pay for hiring an outside agency just for web. Many of these clients did not employ ad agencies at all as they were marketing within very defined markets. Many only created new prints ads once a year (at most), and rarely ventured outside their comfort zones. But they would sometimes experiment with web advertising when called by a company such as Multiview -- a company that specializes in creating online directories for trade associations.

Because of this, Vance Publishing last year created an online marketing division specifically to fill the void they saw. “We all know that in a recession, companies cut back on their marketing spend, but in this economy, companies also realize that they need to invest in the digital world for the future,” said Tom Denison, then the vice president of the new Vance Marketing Solutions division.

In this case, rather than handle this internally, McClatchy has brought in a company to do what newspapers used to consider standard practice: assisting advertisers create their ad campaigns. At the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, I would estimate that between the reps and the art department, we would create nearly 90% of all ads that appeared in the newspaper that were sold in the retail or classified departments. Only the major accounts or national advertising departments could expect that their advertisers would deliver camera-ready copy.

So, in the end, bringing outside help to offer web services is probably a very good idea. I can't help but marvel, however, how many third party companies are finding ways to make money off of newspaper and magazine companies by providing services one would consider basic: ad creation, electronic publishing solutions. No wonder then that many of these companies are beginning to decide to get into the content game. After all, they are already providing many of the services that would identify a company as media.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Zinio's iPad app: the easiest way to access magazines on the iPad; app will need updating, but that's the norm

Only a few magazine publishers were able to launch their own iPad apps in time for launch day on Saturday. So, for most iPad owners, the best way to access magazine content was through the free Zinio app.
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The Zinio magazine stand: the best way to access magazines on the iPad.  →

Zinio wisely included six magazines with their first iPad -- hoping to hook readers and future buyers.

Let me start by saying that Zinio's app will need to be updated at some point (darn, there goes my chance to get this story included on their site!). The app crashed once on me, though that could have been caused by the iPad's rather low 256 megs of memory -- a shockingly low amount of RAM for a laptop, but probably sufficient for this tablet.
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VIVmag's navigation page.

Scrolling was a bit sticky, as well. But Zinio, I am sure, was like most developers in that they had to create their app without an actual iPad to work with. Because of this, there are some things they will want to refine, and some UI things they will want to work out. This will be the norm, and in no way should be looked at as a deficiency.

Since VIVmag made such a commotion because of the videos posted by Alexx Henry, let's look at how it all turned out. (VIVmag is a digital only magazine that can only be found on Zinio.)

First off, these magazines are not interactive magazines from a programming perspective. That is, this is not complex programing like you would find in either an iPad game or in some of the concept videos that have been posted. (You can find a number of iPad demo videos on the TNM YouTube Channel.) Instead, the VIVmag does a fantastic job of embedding QuickTime videos into their issue -- the best job I've seen so far.
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VIVmad ads for Kia and Wakaya Club & Sap have embedded video

Almost all the ads found in this issue have embedded video, a testament to their ad staff for making sure their clients took advantage of this.

VIVMag also does a good job of using video and pictures throughout the issue. Layouts are mostly spread, read in landscape mode, but often link to features that are in portrait mode, where the reader scrolls down to continue to read. This is inline with the thinking found in the Bonnier concept video. It was BERG's Jack Schulze's thought that the reading experience on the iPad would be like the web where reading requires scrolling, rather than flipping of pages. (see video here).  The VIVmag issue on Zinio, therefore, involves both flipping and scrolling.
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The layout for the feature seen in Alexx Henry's videos.

Feature layouts contain a red "ViVify" button that is a link to the embedded content, mostly video. This is a good solution that is available in any flip book, so there is nothing really new here, just implementation for the iPad. But it should be said that most publishers don't go to this much trouble for their flip books -- they say they will do this, but ultimately don't push their editors and sale staffs to bring their flip books to life. Being electronic only, VIVmag sees this, of course, as essential.

Quick aside: If Apple's iPad has been criticized as being a closed environment, then what about magazines and books on readers? I didn't hear anyone complaining that the Kindle didn't allow you to comment on Great Expectations. Face it, there are times when the lack of commenting and social network sharing is simply the norm. Can you comment on a song you here on a CD player? Can you share parts of a movie you are viewing on television? Sometimes devices are simply players, like a radio or iPod. When I buy an issue of Time magazine is there a way to contact the writer built into the magazine? No, I have to write a letter, or pick up my phone.

So, if the iPad, or the Zinio magazine reader, is going to be criticized for being not the interactive device some hoped, well, don't buy it and wait for something else. But stop whining about what it could have been and get on with deciding whether you want to create products for those who do own one.

Monday morning briefs: Equipment Trader to drop paid model: Vance brings on new veep of eMedia

Equipment Trader goes free: Equipment Trader, which serves the construction and farming equipment industry, announced that beginning in May, their magazine will be available at no charge, as opposed to being sold through stores.
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"Information today is free. Now, so are our magazines,” said Mark Bondi, Director of Sales & Marketing. “This move is part of our larger plan to expand the value our equipment dealers receive. We are staying current with today’s marketplace and leveraging technology more effectively for our dealers,” said Bondi.

Equipment Trader is owned by Dominion Enterprises.

Vance Publishing Corp. announced it had hired Dean E. Horowitz as vice president of eMedia. Horowitz has spent the past 17 years at Reed Business Information and was general manager of the construction group.

"Dean's background in digital business models is exceptional,” said Peggy Walker, president of Libertyville, Illinois based Vance. “He has solid experience in developing new digital products and services, along with a strong sales and marketing focus in both traditional and new media. He is the ideal person to lead our continuing efforts to expand our digital businesses and to integrate our brands across multiple platforms.”

Horowitz replaces Tom Denison who left Vance at the end of last year as veep of eMedia.

That didn't take long: EMG Technology announced today that it will include the Apple iPad, launched on Saturday, as "an additional accused product" in EMG's previously filed patent infringement lawsuit against Apple Inc. The company's lawsuit is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.

"EMG will take steps to add Apple's newly released iPad to the range of Apple products already accused of patent infringement in the case, including the iTunes Store, iPhone, iPod Touch and Apple TV. The trial date is set for September 12, 2011," explained Shawn Hansen, an attorney who is representing EMG.

Elliot A. Gottfurcht, managing member of EMG said in a press release that "Apple refuses to pay reasonable royalties for its use of EMG's patents relating to navigating Internet mobile websites and applications, which were filed in 1999, several years before Apple's mobile patents were filed. Perhaps the reason lies in a statement Steve Jobs made in the 1996 documentary called Triumph of the Nerds, 'We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.'"

The first mover advantage: small number of media apps give advantage to some; others wait to launch their apps

Media companies were a distinct minority this morning in the iTunes iPad app store. The Times, USA Today and a handful of others launched apps in time to be seen by new owners of Apple's tablet, but compared to games and books, newspaper and magazine apps were sparse. (And don't look for apps from media industry trade pubs or web sites, either.)

The media industry, being a conservative community, played wait-and-see. Some were expected to be there at launch (the NYT, for instance) and some proudly proclaimed they would be (NPR) and were. The Guardian, interestingly, did not launch a news app on launch day, but instead offered The Guardian Eyewitness, an app that can be found under Photography.
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Few decided to launch early to try and establish first mover advantage -- and those that did, like the Times, did so cautiously with a scaled back app that probably disappointed more iPad users than wowed them.

One of those that launched on April 3rd was from the Condé Nast web site Epicurious. The iPad app from Epicurious was one of about 30-40 food oriented apps to be found on iTunes Saturday morning (including Order Pizza for iPad and the totally worthless iBum for iPad that somehow made it through Apple's approval process).

The Epicurious iPad app is a very simply, clean, usable app that takes advantage of the iPads added real estate, but none of its multimedia capabilities (more on this later). By launching first, Epicurious has staked its ground as the leading recipe and food app -- not because it is trying to do everything, but because of its brand name and ease of use. The free app plays it safe by keeping things simple: remember, the vast majority of developers worked with an iPad to test their programs.
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Epicurious, by launching first, vies to be the cook's default iPad app.

If this was a conscious decision then I think Condé Nast has been wise to go in this direction. That is, keeping things simple early so that they can launch before many competitors, but don't attempt to do things that simply won't work because of the limitation of developing in the dark.